Visiting London, England can be overwhelming, with crowds and snazzy accents. Here's a list of things to know that may help you feel more comfortable, almost like a local.
The Layout of the City
The Thames River runs through the middle of London. Many of the top activities are near to the river itself, and the more popular activities are mostly on the north side. The feel of neighborhoods changes quickly, in a matter of blocks. One minute you’re in a busy shopping area on Oxford Street, and a few minutes later, you are walking through Mayfair, one of the most exclusive areas in the city.
If you are ever lost in London, knowing a postcode (or what is called a zip code or postal code in other countries) can help you orient yourself. A postcode that starts with WC means West Central London, and if it starts with N, that means you’re in North London.
For a better understanding of how postal codes can help you find your way in the city, visit: http://postcodearea.co.uk/postaltowns/london/.
Is It Wrong or Is It Right?
Roughly one quarter of the countries in the world drive on the left-hand side of the road rather than the right-hand side. According to the Guardian newspaper, driving on the left originated in the Middle Ages, when travelers had swords hanging on their right hip and needed easy access in the event of issues. This also allowed them to easily shake hands with a potential friend using their right hand.
Hundreds of years later, countries began to switch to the right, with the introduction of carriages requiring the driver to sit on the back left horse. This shift resulted in traffic shifting to the left side…but only in countries that adopted this new type of carriage. Find out more about the history of why we drive where we do: www.worldstandards.eu
Depending on your country of origin, driving on the right may represent a change for you and will take some getting used to. It’s important for your health and safety that with every street you cross, you look in the correct direction before taking a single step. There are many notifications at intersections in the core of London to remind you which way to look. As a visitor to London, it may all feel quite new and strange. Take note that being on the right-hand side does not seem to apply strictly to walking, where, for example, escalators will be on the right side, and on the escalator, you are expected to stand right if you are slow and walk left. The streets of London are so busy, people are walking pretty much everywhere, left or right, with a focus on getting where they want to go.
Mind Your Manners!
The British have a reputation for being known as stuffy, using terms like stiff upper lip for their behaviour. In reality, there is a level of decorum, politeness and proper manners that is cultural. Loud and boisterous habits are rare, proper grammar is employed, and please-and-thank-yous are a way of life. Any tourist will do well to be aware of these customs, as you can get more with sugar than salt.
A few additional tips: holding eye contact for too long is considered rude; don’t be surprised to see the fork being held in the left hand and the knife in the right; when dealing with the older generation, use Mr/Mrs/Miss and the surname until offered use of a first name; and discussion about money is considered crass. Final tidbit: public displays of affection (PDA) are rare, so be prepared for strange looks should you feel compelled to kiss your sweetie in public.
When it comes to tipping in restaurants, be aware that there is only one minimum wage for all professions, including those in the services industry. Basically, someone working in a restaurant makes the same as someone working retail. You’ll find that locals do not tip much as a result. Take special notice on your tab at the end of the night and ensure a standard percentage tip was not added without your permission. Tipping 10% is standard.
The London Beat
London is a cosmopolitan city, but it does sleep. Core hours for shops are anywhere from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with some shopping areas open on Sundays. You may notice, especially downtown or away from the highly touristy spots, that the dress code is better than casual. London is known to be a hub for fashion, and suits and ties are common. As a tourist, you will be forgiven for wearing running shoes and shorts, but know that it is not common for Londoners to dress that way.
Pubs are a staple across the United Kingdom, not only in London. Nicknamed one’s “Local”, pubs are a gathering place for food, friends, and beer. It is not uncommon to consume a few pints over lunch hour. Pubs are not the source for nightlife or dancing, and most pubs close before midnight and may have limited hours on Sundays.
There are many pubs considered to be of historical significance. The Guardian newspaper published an article that lists some of the top ones:
Deals and Steals when visiting
Yes, London can be an expensive city to visit. But there are deals to be found! For example, if you have purchased a ticket on the national rail system (www.rail.co.uk), you can present your ticket and get discounts on tours, like entrance into the Tower of London at a two-for-one rate. If you would love to see every attraction, the London Pass may be the right option for you, since it provides discounts all over the city to attractions, restaurants, and public transit.
Learn more about the London Pass here: www.londonpass.com
Museums are Free!
In 2001, the British government decided to make London’s national museums and galleries free to enter with a goal to increase access to national culture and history. Donations are always welcome, and if you’re a museum buff, this is an incredible city to visit. Learn more about which places are free: www.ukguide.org/london/museum.html
Cool Stories About the Royals
King George the Third was crazy. Henry the Eighth beheaded a number of wives because he was not allowed to divorce. King Edward the Eighth abdicated his throne to marry the woman he loved, a commoner. The stories of the British Royals go back for hundreds of years, and although their role is mostly ceremonial, the length of their history and the power of the British Empire commands them respect around the world. Locals may not overtly express their love of the Royals, but they also would consider it rude to say anything disrespectful about them.